My dear students,
Today is a special day in Canada: The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30, 2021). It is a day dedicated to reflection, to learning, to soul-searching, and to making a commitment to change.
In a past announcement, I invited you to vote, and in this announcement, I invite you to think about your moral compass and how it aligns with the world of our past and future. At the beginning of this course, we talked about value and we recognizes how elusive that value can be when it comes to things that matter. We discussed the value of a human life. And we concluded that its life insurance payout was a paltry recompense. It can only help with the grief and the healing from the passing of a life.
One of my favorite great Western movies has Clint Eastwood playing a reformed outlaw in Unforgiven, reflecting on his past life and says “It’s a helluva thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got. And all he’s ever gonna get.” It stuck in my mind because in the many years of my life in different parts of the world, the life of an individual person is somewhat trivialized: in wars, in refugee migrations, in pandemics. But it is still a human life.
We have certain moral and social values we treasure and are especially proud of in our quiet way in Canada, so it is especially important that we recognize the extent of the tragedy of the Indigenous Peoples of our nation, and especially the structure of the Residential Schools System. We participate in a great institution–the university–and when we do it well, there is great value created. Therefore, it is especially important for us, students & teachers & staff & alumni to reflect on what Residential Schools (and their underlying philosophy) did to the humanity of the thousands upon thousands of Indigenous children it dismembered from their families, their culture and history, their lives in exile, and ending with their bodies in mass unmarked graves.
I am specially mentioning this to invite you to reflect on the moral importance of our educational systems, and the absolute necessity that they are the foremost places of freedom in mind and body, in respect for each other, and dedicated to the furthering and enfranchising of that freedom for everyone. For when we let such corruption into our educational institutions we corrupt the very meaning of learning. We poison the whole of society and we condemn future generations to the shame of the atrocities we perpetrated.
As Canada grieves, heals, and connects, we need to be at the forefront of the change that needs to happen. We, (and by that I especially mean you my students, and I as your teacher and fellow fore-runner) need to actively make a meaningful change in the same way that we have made meaningful changes in our course. And as with our course, the feedback and actions are most effective when they are meaningful and actually make things better.
So let us grieve, let us learn, and then let us change.